ABUJA – The Supreme Court, yesterday, gave the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the nod to prosecute former Governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye on a 23-count charge bothering on money laundering and illegal diversion of public funds to the tune of about N1.5billion.
A five-man panel of Justices of the apex court, in an unanimous judgment yesterday, held that the anti-graft agency had successfully established a prima-facie criminal case against the former governor to warrant his trial.
Consequently, the panel ordered him to go back to the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Gudu, Abuja and answer to allegations that he looted the Plateau state treasury while in office as governor.
The court threw away an interlocutory appeal which was lodged before it by the accused ex-governor, saying he should submit himself for prosecution.
Dariye had gone before the apex court to challenge the competence of the corruption charge the EFCC preferred against him since 2007.
He contended that the FCT High Court lacked the territorial jurisdiction to try him since the alleged offences involved funds belonging to the Plateau State Government.
He argued that the EFCC ought to have charged him before a court in Plateau state, just as he prayed the appellate court to quash the entire 23-count charge against him.
The former governor took the case to the Supreme Court after his initial appeal was struck out by the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which also held that he has a criminal case to answer.
Meanwhile, delivering the lead judgment yesterday, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta described the antics that were successfully employed by the accused ex-governor to stall his trial for over eight years as a “sad commentary on the fight against corruption in Nigeria”.
He maintained that the Court of Appeal was right when it affirmed the ruling of the FCT High Court which had dismissed Dariye’s preliminary objection to his trial.
“All the four issues determined by the court were resolved against the appellant.
“So, the appeal has no merit. It is hereby dismissed. The appellant should go back to the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to stand his trial on the charges levelled against him.
“This is a sad commentary on our fight against corruption. Appeal dismissed,” Justice Ngwuta added.
While concurring with the verdict, another member of the apex court panel, Justice Chima Nweze condemned what he described as the attitude of politically exposed persons to deploy all manner of tactics to delay corruption cases instituted against them.
“I have noticed a most worrying trend in most recent time, particularly among the politically exposed citizens of this great country, imagining that they are above the laws of the land, have perfected some awkward and baseless tactics of delaying their trial when they run into conflict with the law.
“The appellant in this appeal falls into this category. In 2007, about eight years ago, leave was granted to the respondent to prefer charges against him. He was duly arraigned before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
“On November 13, the date set aside for the prosecution to marshal its witnesses, he implored the trial court to quash the charges against him on the grounds that the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to hear and determine the charges.
“When the application was dismissed, he proceeded to the Court of Appeal, Abuja division, which held and dismissed his appeal. Instead of returning to the trial court to face his trial, he appealed against the lower court’s judgment. I agree that this appeal is unmeritorious”, he held.
Dariye was on July 13, 2007 arraigned before the FCT High Court by the EFCC which among other things, alleged that he diverted about N1.2bn from the Plateau ecological funds into the account of Ebenezer Ratnen Venture, one of the companies through which he allegedly siphoned funds into his personal coffers.